The time to write an abstract comes when an academic paper is finished. At this moment, such crucial issues as the purpose for writing, the research problem, questions, methods, and results have been identified in detail. The writer knows the ins and outs of the chosen work and is ready to share a brief and informative summary, also known as an abstract.
What Is an Abstract in a Paper?
In academic writing, an abstract is a one-paragraph summary that defines the main aspects of a written work. It usually consists of 150–250 words. Although an author can exceed this word count, writing more than 300 words is not recommended for this part of an academic paper. The goal of an abstract is to provide the reader with a brief overview of the chosen piece of writing, including key points and the overall value of the work.
What Are the Parts of an Abstract?
As a rule, an abstract has neither headings nor sections. The writer must develop a comprehensive and smoothly flowing text. The paragraph comprising the abstract briefly mentions items from the following list of issues:
- The purpose of writing the paper;
- The research problem to be analyzed;
- The chosen research design and methods used to gather the material;
- Major findings and discussions that are developed in the paper;
- Overall conclusions and a summary of the work with clear interpretations, practical applications (if any), and limitations.
Why Are Abstracts Important?
Teachers and instructors may ask for abstracts in assignments calling for different types of academic papers. It would be inaccurate to believe that only dissertations and thesis projects demand strong abstracts. Sometimes, an essay or other coursework may include a brief abstract to convince a reader to pay attention to the work. Research and term papers may also begin with an abstract that offers a concise plan and helps readers decide whether they should continue reading.
What Are the Types of Abstracts?
The type of abstract depends on the goal of the author:
- Descriptive (describes the work, its purposes, and research questions with no judgments or interpretations in about 100–150 words)
- Informative (explains the main arguments of the project with results and findings in 200–300 words)
- Critical (describes and comments on the study, its goals, and conclusions in about 300 or possibly more words)
A student should pay special attention to the instructions of his/her own academic institution and consult an instructor about the length and the type of abstract required before beginning to write.
How to Write a Good Abstract?
To create a good and informative abstract, it is not enough to read a paper and underscore its main points. It is also necessary to follow common grammar and style rules, maintain a structure, and stay focused. The following list of common rules and recommendations can facilitate this writing process:
- Use active voice whenever possible. Although passive voice is allowed in writing abstracts—and sometimes it is impossible to avoid passive constructions—the writer should check the use of active-passive sentences.
- Write concise and complete sentences. The reader should get a clear understanding of what the whole paper is about.
- Develop an abstract using past tense. This part of a paper is reporting work that has already been done at the moment of writing.
- Focus on the details of the project, not on its background. The task is not to introduce a topic but to explain the essence and the value of the entire project.
- Paraphrase the material carefully. Including references or direct quotes is not recommended, but it is possible to use such phrases as “the report indicates…,” “researchers say…,” or “the study shows….”
- Avoid using abbreviations or complicated terms. Such phrases may confuse the reader and decrease the desire to continue reading the paper.
- Offer a general description of the project. Not only is it difficult to predict the level of background knowledge of all readers, but creating simple and clear abstracts is generally beneficial.
- Highlight the work already done. The purpose of an abstract is not to prompt the reader to make guesses or interpret findings but to provide a clear understanding of the paper.
To divide the abstract according to the necessary topical sections, a student can use a simple calculation rule:
|Introduction, background, purpose, and importance of the paper||25%|
|Methods and research design||25%|
|Findings and results||35%|
|Implications and limitations of research||15%|
In general, writing an abstract is not a difficult task for a person who has already developed a research project. Still, it is always possible to make mistakes and spoil the overall effect of the paper. Therefore, the author should not write in haste but should focus on facts and avoid unnecessarily complicating the topic. The goal is not to sound erudite or to pontificate but to help the reader understand that the work attached to the abstract is worth reading and using in future research.